The past week (or so)...
26.06.2007 28 °C
Monday, June 18, 2007
Playing the Poor Student
Well, classes began once again, after an extremely short break for us. While the bulk of the school's students went out to the desert, our group went to Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and the nearby town of Kenitra, where there is an extremely nice beach on the Atlantic. The trip itself was extremely short, as we left from Fes early on Saturday morning. We arrived in Rabat a little after noon, where we checked into our hotel, the Hotel Majlis. The hotel was almost like walking into a completely different country: I had left the, for lack of a better term, Moroccan feel of the Medina in Fes for the European comforts of the hotel, which is beside the train station in the French-designed Ville Nouvelle ("New City" in French; almost every major Moroccan city has this quarter). The afternoon was somewhat open, as we all had the choice of going to the beach in Rabat or going to the souk. Knowing that we were going to the beach the next day, I (with a couple other people) opted for the latter option. As a result, we had a wonderful time. One of the cadets, Daniel, was leaving Morocco on Monday, and he was looking for some various items to take home. This was the point where we both decided to have a little bit of fun with regards to our identities and conduct a little experiment: Daniel and I decided to "become" English and Dutch students respectively and see whether there would be any effect on our ability to bargain. After a bit of fun, we had managed to purchase 3 pairs of Moroccan shoes and a Moroccan tea set. Our ability to bargain was somewhat hampered by several factors:
First of all, it is extremely important to not have all of your money in your wallet. By placing the bulk of your money in another pocket, you give the appearance of having less money with which to work.
Another problem was knowing when to leave during bargaining. If you walk too early, then it is possible that the owner won't try to bring you back, as you do not appear to be very interested. At the same time, waiting too long to leave can mean that you will not get as good of a deal as you could have.
Finally, it is extremely difficult to shop around for good prices, as the bargaining process means that the price you are given is good only as long as you are at the stand. As a result, several better deals were missed on our part.
After returning to the hotel, Daniel and I decided to ask a couple of people if they wanted to - this is great - walk back over to the souk. I changed my clothes, since it was getting colder out, and we went for a bit of a walk. The evening was a lot of fun, and we eventually wound up at a little restaurant across from McDonald's, where I had a chwarma, which is shaved meat on bread. Mine was beef, and it is truly the closest thing I have had to barbecue while over here. Finally, after chatting with some folks in the hotel lobby (I thought that my quasi-insomnia had passed), I went up to my room, where I quickly fell asleep.
The next morning saw a rather hurried breakfast on my part, since I had gotten up a little on the late side. The hotel's breakfast was quite French, with my meal consisting of several pastries and glasses of orange juice. After packing, we made our way over to the Hassan Tower/Mohammed V Mausoleum, which is the burial site of the two former kings of Morocco (Mohammed V and Hassan II). The site is truly incredible, and unfortunately my camera malfunctioned inside the mausoleum, which meant that I was not able to take pictures of the tombs. Oh well, perhaps it was a sign...
We then got on the road to Keneitra, where we spent the greater part of the afternoon. While most of the folks went swimming, I was not overly thrilled with the ideas of a 240 km/150 mi bus ride before I had access to a shower, so I decided to have a relaxed lunch and walk along the beach. It was a beautiful day, and perhaps the biggest problem was that we had to leave around 4:15 in order to get back to Fes at a reasonable time. After a brief stop at a gas station on the motorway, we soon returned to Fes. A lovely surprise was that the bus was dropping us off in the Medina, which saved me the cost of a bus or taxi ride. After getting back to the room, I got to doing some of my homework, and then I quickly got ready for bed.
Unfortunately, Monday meant that it was a return to the routine of classes. 7 AM always comes way too early for me, especially since sunrise is around 5:30 AM here (no Daylight Saving Time here). Add to it that I have four hours of language instruction each day (in addition to any sort of homework and/or leisure activities) and time quickly adds up. I got back my second quiz; it was a 39/40, which is about a 97.5%. Needless to say, I was extremely pleased. After going home for lunch, I came back to school for the afternoon session, and after that (and some socializing/email checking in the garden) I finally made my way home. More work; always more, it seems. Toujours les devoirs; Da'imaan ouaajib (French and Arabic respectively). But I really do think that I'm finally getting in the language groove.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Classes were as per usual; lots of work, lots of progress. I'm finding that the grammatical constructs of Arabic have parallels in some of the other languages I have studied; as a result, picking up the grammar is not as difficult as I had thought. Vocabulary, on the other hand, is a bit of a different beast; for the most part, there are not many similarities, so memorization is a little tougher. Since today was Tuesday, I got to go to Khadija's (one of our program directors) apartment for our culture and history course. We had a henna artist as our guest lecturer, who also did henna for us (it's apparently an important Moroccan tradition). As it was voluntary, I decided to not have henna done. I'm certainly not regretting that decision!
Since I had a bit of work to do before the afternoon class today (our afternoon class is bumped up 2 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays), I decided to skip lunch, and I am not completely unhappy with the result. I was able to get my work done, and I thoroughly enjoyed my later meals. Sometimes I do wonder if the homestay was a good idea, although it is certainly not because of my family. In fact, I suppose that it is indeed me at times; I'm thrown for a loop with certain things, such as the meal situation or the language/communications issues. Each time I think that, though, I realize that I'm probably just having a bad day. Oh, well. Not every day is bad, and hopefully tomorrow will be a little better.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Murphy's Law Strikes!
More work. Big surprise! It's really incredible how much work is being shoved into this course. Over the past week and a half, we have completed three full chapters in this textbook, and we've started the fourth today. To give you an idea of the pace, most schools go through about eight chapters a year. Needless to say, this has been a little short of torture, and I chose to do this! As if that wasn't enough, I've also been dealing with some other various problems, not least of which has been the slow and painful demise of my computer. The 30-45 minutes needed to turn on the computer due to repeated crashing was tolerable, and I had planned to reformat the hard drive once I had returned to the States, but a new problem has popped up: every 2 hours or so, the computer randomly locks up, meaning that I get to - yes, you guessed it! - restart the whole process! I obviously need to speed up my plans. I began to back up all the files I had not previously taken care of, but I have run into a problem: I'm still about half of a gigabyte short in terms of needed memory. Sounds like I need to go to Marjane, which is like a massive Wal-Mart. I'll do that at the end of the week. Until then, I've got other things with which to deal.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Murphy's Law Strikes! Again!
AARGH! I woke up this morning to a sore throat. The problem is that it has not gone away. Goody, a cold! This should be a lot of fun! In addition, tomorrow is our weekly quiz, and I still have not completely figured out the plural in Arabic, which is perhaps even more confusing than the plural in English. There seems to be very little pattern to the whole thing, and it's the sort of thing that makes you want to tear your hair out. If I can make it to the weekend, that would really be wonderful, as we are going to the Middle Atlas, where I will be in the fall. We'll also get to see monkeys. Yay!
We had our culture class today, and we talked about the succession crisis following the death of Mohammed in AD 632 and the establishment of the caliphate, as well as the Sunni-Shi'a schism. I know that sounds like dry stuff, but the repercussions of these events are being felt even to this day; one needs only to look at the sectarian violence in Iraq to see that. I submitted my research paper topic today: the history of the Western Sahara conflict following the withdrawl of the Spanish in 1975. This topic, which I will address in later posts, is a crucial aspect of contemporary Moroccan politics. After all, the Moroccans left the OAU, a kind of African UN, because it decided to give recognition to the Polisario movement, which has fought against Morocco for an independent Western Sahara. It's rather important.
Hopefully, this is all just allergies, though, and this sore throat will be gone tomorrow.
Friday, June 22, 2007
I was wrong. But there are good things too.
Nope, it wasn't allergies. Sore throat today, but now there's nasal congestion too! As soon as the day was done, I wanted to be out like a light. Unfortunately, there was a bit of work to complete, including a quiz. While preparing for the quiz, I finally got the hang of plurals, which couldn't have come soon enough. The quiz went well, although it was a lot of work. In addition to providing the plurals, there was a reading passage complete with questions, a vocabulary section, subject/predicate identification, sentence tranlations, and a short essay! I was even more exhausted after finishing that, although my instructor told me that I did very well on it. That really made my day.
After class, I went with Megan, one of the people in my group, to Marjane, in order to get the flash drive for my computer as well as some other items. After a rather hectic trek across the store, we finally checked out and got in a taxi. The driver was very friendly to us, and he asked us where we were from. I decided to try my Dutch routime out. Big mistake, as it turns out that the driver had lived in Einhoven for three years! Once he started speaking in Dutch to me, I made up a little story about how I left when I was very young and moved to England. Meanwhile, Megan was sitting behind me laughing her head off. Finally we got to our destination, and I went back to the institute for a couple minutes of email and socializing.
After wrapping that up, I went over to the apartment of a few cadets who had invited me over for a bit of a get-together. After chatting with some folks for a few hours, I decided that I might want to get home. But there were a couple problems with that, not least of which was that I didn't have a key to the building. Additionally, I didn't have my host family's phone number, so I had no way of contacting them. Faced with the prospect of going into the Medina in the dark without knowing whether I could get inside, I decided to play it safe and stay at the apartment. After all, my roommate had seen me earlier, so he knew of my plight.
Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep, so I decided to work on my computer. I finished up the backup, and I started the reformat. It worked perfectly. Finally, around 3 AM or so, I drifted off to sleep.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Monkeys, Mountains, Musicians, and Medications
7:30 AM came way too early for me, especially since I was not able to get any of my medicine, which was sitting in the Medina. Fortunately, one of the cadets is a medic at VMI, so he had some packets of Sudafed on him, which saved me a lot of trouble. After seeing my host father and explaining what had happened, I got into Dr. Taifi's car, which is a Mercedes E-Class Diesel. I learned some interesting facts about this car, as it had previously been in the motorpool of the palace in Fes. Since license plates are kept with a car after it has been sold in Morocco, this car still has royal tags. As a result, there were several instances of police officers saluting the car as we drove along. It was a lot of fun.
We made our way through Ifrane, which is home to Al Akhawayn University, where I will be attending classes this fall. The campus appears to be extremely beautiful. Unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures, since we went through town merely to get to other destinations, the first of which was a forest with monkeys. They were extremely friendly and (almost) disgustingly cute. Not as cute as some of the little kittens here in the Medina, but very cute nonetheless.
Our next stop was Azrou, which is the administrative capital for the region. We visited an artisanal center, which is a government-funded and regulated shop. I was tempted to get some things, but alas, I didn't have the funds on me. Oh, well. After Azrou we drove up to a mountain spring, and this is where the day gets extremely hazy for me, as I was forced to change medications to something that made me very drowsy. The next thing I know is that it's three or four hours later, and I had fallen asleep along the banks of the spring, which is also the source of a major river, and we were driving back towards Fes. After a stop at our driver's mother's house for some tea (a very neat experience), we again stopped in Azrou, where a couple of friends and I sat in a cafe until we were ready to go. After returning to Fes, Zac and I got back to the house, where an American Idol-style show was on. The difference was that there were a lot of musical guests, including a French singer named Helene Segara, who Zac (and I) think is possibly the most beautiful woman in the world, and a Moroccan "international folk rock" group called Hoba Hoba Spirit. Finally I crashed, and I got in bed, not caring when I awoke.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
I was lucky to sleep until around 9 AM, when I finally got up. I've had two communications problems (other than lacking the ability to speak) since I've gotten this cold. First of all, my host father remains convinced that the cold was caused by the window being open during the night, which would be difficult when the low gets to around, oh, 50 degrees F or so. This has led to some headbutting, particularly when I feel like I have a permanent fever. The second concerns - shock! - food. When I get sick, I typically do not want to eat, a concept my host family fails to grasp. Oh well, I'm compensating by eating more slowly.
After lunch, I decided to take advantage of my free time and watch The Last King of Scotland, starring Forest Whittaker as the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. While the film was extremely graphic, it was an extremely good movie, and I gladly recommend it as such. After the movie, I decided to make some phone calls Stateside and then get to some homework. After slipping into yet another nap, I had dinner, took a shower, and got in bed.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Back to the salt mines.
Well, it feels like I went a good five steps or so backwards, or at least I feel that way. Today I did get a little bit of good news: I got a 98 on my test from Friday. Unfortunately, the rest of the day was extremely infuriating. While the work has been going rather well, I have been having my share of problems with loneliness and the like. I feel that at times I am completely unable to fit in with the other folks here. Needless to say, I am finding this a bit difficult, and my happiness from work has been eroded as a result.
My health has improved, at least more so than yesterday. That much is good, although I would like to be completely healthy by this upcoming weekend. I need to get to knocking out my paper on the Western Sahara. As for my work, I suppose that somehow it will manage to work itself out.
The funniest thing is that the problems I am experiencing are all personal; that is, none of them have any sort of cultural issues. How strange. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
...like the Sword of Damocles.
For some reason I am still extremely upset; I can't seem to shake off this feeling. As the title suggests, it's hanging over me.... But I do still feel like progress is being made on the language. It really is hard to believe that in three weeks I will be returning to the States, and only two more weeks of classes. It truly is incredible how quickly time flies.
It's been one of those days where I simply cannot get into the rhythm of things. Although I have a massive amount of work, I can't seem to focus on it. The simplest nuisances are infuriating me more than I could imagine. I really hope that it's illness, which is continuing to improve, rather than me that is causing this. The culture class is coming up soon, and I am not really sure whether I am completely here at the moment. I suppose we'll see in the next hour or so.
And that's all I have time for right now. If there are any questions or comments you want to direct at me, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll see what I can do. Until later, good afternoon from Fes.